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Structural Approaches
As two-legged creatures, we humans experience something unique and distinct from four-legged animals: an upright posture.

Our heads lift to the heavens while our feet connect us to the earth. This human reflex to stand is so primary that even in the first months of life, when our muscles are barely developed, we are already exploring how to arch our necks and backs so we can raise our heads and gaze forward while lying on our stomachs.

To remain at ease and function effectively in this upward or orientation, according to practitioners of structural bodyways. we need to be in alignment with gravity. That's what such practitioners aim for: to organize or reorganize your structure so that the force of gravity flows through it. As a result, this process may enable you to fulfill whatever psychological, spiritual, and physical potential lies latent but restricted within you.

Structural approaches are founded on she belief that the vertical alignment of your body can dramatically influence your health, behavior, and consciousness. In these and other fundamental principles of the field, we hear the echoing voice of Ida Rolf, Ph.D., the creator of Rolfing and the pioneer behind all the structural bodyways available today.

Standing Upright
What practitioners of structural approaches mean by structure is not only the skeleton itself, but more important, the myofascial system. Myo- is muscle. Fascia is the tough but thin elastic connective tissue that forms an uninterrupted three-dimensional network from head to foot, knitting the body together like one huge sweater. Because fascia ensheathes every muscle, bone, nerve gland, organ, and blood vessel, it is what allows the body to retain its shape.

Without fascia, our skeletons would fall into a heap of bones and we couldn't maintain our erect carriage. Just underneath the skin, fascia wraps the whole body in a seamless blanket. Then it envelops each individual muscle fiber, bundles the separate muscle fibers, and collects the ends of muscles into tendons, the glistening white fibrous connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones or other body organs. Tough fascial bands or cords called ligaments hold together forms, connecting bone to bone. Facial membranes called periosteum cover the outside of bone, while those called endosteum line the marrow cavities of bone. Still others, known as synovial membranes, line joint cavities and bursae, small sacs of heavy fluid between muscle and tendon or between bone, muscle, and tendon that reduce friction and facilitate movement.

Fascia also encases each organ connects one to another, and binds them to the inner walls of the body cavity, so they stay put. Without fascia your heart, lungs, and and stomach could not remain suspended in their places.

Because of its interconnectedness, whatever happens to any part of the fascia can profoundly affect every other part of the body. Hereditary conditions, physical or emotional trauma, poor posture, inflammation, badly learned movement patterns and other stresses can constrain, twist, or otherwise bind and shorten the fascia. According to physical therapist John F. Barnes, fascial restrictions can exert tremendous tensile forces-more than two thousand pounds of pressure per square inch-on nerves, blood and lymph vessels, bones, muscles, glands, and organs, and can result in various symptoms.

Recall the image of the body as a sweater. If you pull, snag, or turn any part of it, what happens to the rest? Does it keep its integrity, or does it become distorted? If you've washed a sweater by hand, you know how important it is to block it afterward: if you don't, it will remain uneven and misshapen. The fascial network is similar, except for its three-dimensionality. In a sense, over a series of sessions, a structural practitioner gradually blocks your body sweater.

Gravity and Vertical Alignment
Fascia is plastic and highly adaptable. It responds to the shock of any motion and also to the force of gravity. Gravity is one of the most dominant and fundamental powers in the universe. Without it, everything would fly off the surface of our planet. When we are in harmony with gravity, it acts as a support in keeping us vertical. When were our of balance, it drains our energy as we struggle to hold ourselves up.

The principle of 'tensegrity' (a term coined by architect Buckminster Fuller) in the relationship among the skeleton, muscles, and connective tissue explains how we maintain our vertical structure. Picture a tent. Once it's set up, what keeps the fabric from collapsing on the ground or blowing away in a wind? Both the center pole and the cables or ropes pulled to the right tension. Or visualize a radio tower. When the guy wires are equally taut in opposite directions, the tower stands in position and in line with gravity. In the same way, when our fascia and muscles are evenly balanced, they bring the spine in to an appropriate relationship with our center of gravity, efficiently transmitting weight downward and lifting it upward. If the fascia and muscles arc too loose or too tight in any direction, the skeleton has to lean accordingly. In this case, gravity will exert a tremendous load on the body's structure instead of sustaining it.

The basic premise of structural bodyways is derived from osteopathy (a medical system of manipulation). The condition of our structure has an enormous effect on how we function. If we are experiencing bodily discomfort, it may be due to structural restriction. The pressure in some area may impede blood from flowing to bring fresh oxygen and nutrients and carry away waste products. It can also block lymph flow. Or it may interfere with information moving through a nerve to reach an organ. Releasing the restriction to balance structure allows the body's self-correcting mechanisms to operate again, alleviating symptoms and restoring proper function.

According to structural practitioners, manual pressure on the fascia changes its intercellular matrix (which it has more of than cells). This material consists of fibers-elastic, reticular, and collagenic-and an amorphous, jellylike ground substance. The polysaccharide gel complex includes highly viscous hyaluronic acid, which lubricates fibers so they can glide over each other, and proteoglycans, peptide chains that make the gel a kind of shock absorber Because of inflammation, trauma, and chronically poor pasture and movements, cross-link restrictions develop in the fibers, and the gel hardens. Manipulation breaks up the cross-links and also induces the ground substance to change from a cement-like solid to a gelatinous consistency, so it is able to absorb the compressive forces of movement or trauma.

Like potters or sculptors working with clay, structural practitioners “tenderize” and lengthen the fascia with their hands, arms, or elbows while you're seated or lying down on a padded table. By manually pressing the tissue, they affect sensory receptors in muscles, tendons and joints. This information travels as sensory input to your central nervous system, which then translates it into motor output: The fascia softens and tonus (state of contraction or activity) decreases or increases, according co what would allow the tissue and nervous system to respond in a balanced way. In a sense, structural practitioners are a cross between master architect and master artist. They shape human bodies into stable, supported. yet dynamic forms that can function harmoniously.

Experience: Examining fascia
Take a fresh grapefruit or orange. Cut it in half. With your hand, squeeze all the juice out of one half. Look at what's left. The membranous walls that divide sections and the inner lining of the rind are the fruit's connective tissue. If we had all the liquid squeezed out of us, what would remain is the fascia.

Another way to look at it is by peeling a whole grapefruit. Then carefully separate the ball of fruit into its sections. Notice the membrane encasing each piece. Open a section and look at the any globules of fruit within it and notice that each one is individually wrapped in a membrane as well. Each muscle and she individual muscle cells within it are similarly wrapped by fascia.'

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